There is one complaint about Jason Garrett among Cowboys fans and analysts that seems to dwarf any other. Garrett’s game management, particularly near the end of games, often leaves a lot to be desired. Notable examples include the fourth quarters of games against the Green Bay Packers and Detroit Lions last season, the end of the first half against the Washington Redskins in week 1 in 2010 when Garrett was the offensive coordinator and play caller, and a 2012 game against the New York Giants when Jerry and Stephen Jones were shown on TV screaming for a timeout while Garrett let the clock run. Further details will be spared so as to not ruin your day by dredging up memories of those epic failures.
Jason Garrett has many positive qualities as a head coach that, in my opinion, justify allowing Garrett to continue coach the Cowboys. Foremost of those qualities is Garrett’s long term view of roster management that has buffered Jerry Jones’ reactionary, short term, “one player away” moves that I believe were too often based on Jones’ overly optimistic assessment of the teams’ talent and ability to get to the glory hole (i.e. Super Bowl).
In Garrett’s four off-seasons, he oversaw a roster that transitioned from one of the older rosters in the league in 2010, when 7 of the 22 starters were 30 or over, to one of the younger rosters, with only 3 of the 22 projected starters for 2014 being 30 or over. For 2014, I project Tony Romo, Jason Witten, and Doug Free as starters, although Anthony Spencer (30), Jeremy Mincey (31) and Uche Nwaneri (30) could add to that total.
So how can the team bear the fruits of Garrett’s strengths while improving his weaknesses? Last season, Jerry Jones talked about Garrett learning and improving as a head coach. Jones appears to be banking on Garrett being able to either learn to be better in game management situations or simply hoping that he improves with experience. But what if assessing multiple variables in mere seconds while under tremendous pressure and while performing several other tasks just isn’t a particular talent or ability that Garrett has? Garrett appears to be a very analytical thinker, which is an asset for the development of a long term strategy. However, studies of personality types indicate that analytical people typically struggle when forced to make quick decisions. This is likely because they like to analyze and process a large amount of information when making decisions, which typically isn’t possible when a quick decision is required.
Rather than hoping Garrett improves his game management ability, the Cowboys can be innovative and hire a game management specialist who focuses solely on game management decisions. Coincidentally, another common criticism of Garrett with which I tend to agree is that the team doesn’t seem to be as innovative as many other teams. A game management specialist could use computer programs to help process the multitude of variables that change from play to play to assist in the decision making. Software already exists that calculates expected win percentage after each play. Such a program could be used to project win percentages based on various play call options. For example, when trailing during the fourth quarter and facing fourth down, the program could provide valuable guidance on whether going for it or punting an outcome that is statistically more likely to improve the expected win percentage. If the decision is to go for the first down, the program could also be used to identify whether a run or pass play is preferable. The program could be optimized by incorporating team-specific statistics rather than using statistics from the entire league.
Similarly, a programmer could create a program intended to optimize the use of timeouts during games that considers the score, time remaining, timeouts left, the two minute warning, and any other relevant factors. For the Cowboys, a game management specialist could use programs that provide relevant information and relay the results and a suggestion to Garrett to make the ultimate decision.
While some old school coaches may scoff at the use of such technology, it is without doubt that coaches make game management decisions in part by processing quantitative situational information. It is also without doubt that coaches, and any human, will inevitably be unable to consider all relevant information and be prone to making mistakes in analyzing the information that they do consider. Therefore, an innovative team that realizes that using technology to lessen the information processing tasks required from coaches while still allowing human judgment based on precise, computer-processed probabilities can gain a competitive advantage. This is especially true for a team with a head coach that has often struggled with game management decisions.
Frank Buffington[polldaddy poll=8220548]